April 13, 2023
Motto: Propelling our world through clearer waters.
Year Founded: 2022
Location: Portland, Oregon
Climate Capital: What made you want to solve this problem?
Marcelino: We started Photon because we wanted to combine all of our skills into a business that has purpose, impact, and a lasting legacy. What unites the four of us is a sense of urgency around the need for cleaner propulsion alternatives amidst our changing climate. What sets us apart from the competition is our collective experiences, our seasoned founding team, and our deep industry connections.
Existing ICE motors emit GHG, impact marine environments with their noise, and often spill oil and fuel into sensitive waters.
Our customers operate their boat fleets in some of the most fragile marine ecosystems in the world. In many emerging markets, the prominent propulsion technology used is a 2-stroke outboard motor, which releases up to 25% of its fuel unburnt into the water column. Decarbonizing these fleets is critical to the sustenance of these areas. Commercial operators use their vessels 10-15x more per year than recreational boaters, so any path to decarbonizing marine propulsion must include these fleets.
We’re still early in our community engagement efforts — we intend to work with local fishing, mariculture, and tourism coastal communities to deploy our technology, and will partner with nonprofits focused on fisheries and conservation to find pathways to deploy our technology to regions that need it most.
We believe that the positive impacts of an EV propulsion system can be measured fairly easily. Each hour of operation on an EV system reduces fuel consumption by 3-10 gallons, depending on the type of application. There are no oil changes, fewer parts to replace, and less noise above and below the water. We intend to use our telemetry software to track total gallons of marine fuel averted, and we're working with academic partners to measure the acoustic signature of our motor compared to its ICE counterpart.
At scale, Photon Marine intends to manufacture 5,000 units annually across two product SKUs, a 100HP and a 300H/P outboard motor. Assuming 1,800 hours of usage annually, after five years, we would be reducing marine fuel consumption by 100,000,000 gallons annually, or 900,000 metric tons of CO2.
Climate Capital: What are you building?
Marcelino: Photon Marine is developing the world’s most powerful and intelligent electric outboard motor system and fleet management software, tailored to commercial boat fleets in tourism, transportation, and mariculture industries. Our solution is a drop-in electric outboard motor system that replaces traditional ICE motors on both new and existing vessels without compromising on performance or reliability. We have two versions, a 100 HP and a 300 HP system, configurable with different sized battery modules. Each system is backed by our fleet management software, which includes industry leading features such as intelligent energy management, predictive maintenance, and smart routing to facilitate the transition from gas to electric. (Potential impact noted above.)
Climate Capital: What is next?
Marcelino: The four founders have been diligent about research and analysis – understanding what our potential customers need and want – and staying focused. We quickly understood that our initial target market would be operators of commercial marine fleets that undertake consistent, repeatable routes and for whom the payback in investing in an electric motor would be one to three years. These customers are excited about the prospects of having a boat that is easier to operate, has less maintenance, has lower cost of ownership and delivers the same torque and performance - and even more so – than you would get from an ICE motor. And, there is less noise pollution and less impact on the environment. We then built a small, talented technical team that, in less than a year, has developed and tested a 300 HP electric motor, which we used for sea trials at the Miami International Boat Show so that we could show potential customers how quiet, reliable and easy to use our motor is.
Climate Capital: How do you foster growth and career development for your employees?
Marcelino: The four founders of Photon developed the following manifesto when they created Photon: At Photon, personality, motivation and compassion are as important as education and experience. We are a family friendly, exploration driven team that embraces diversity – and not just demographic diversity but diversity of thought, knowledge and talent. We honor each person’s unique passions and encourage everyone to bring their authentic self to our work. Our workplace is based on mutual respect and dignity.
The founding team is itself diverse, with one founder being Latino and one being female. We understand that a workforce with many perspectives and diverse backgrounds is more likely to produce exciting ideas and creative solutions. While we don’t yet have a formal talent acquisition plan, we’ve been cognizant of the need to find diverse team members. Our focus on this is working. Last summer, we hired three interns with varied backgrounds to help with business development: A female originally from India, a female originally from Nigeria and an African American male. Additionally, the consultants we have hired thus far are a mix of genders and ethnicities. And our first official employee is a military veteran who currently serves in the Air Force Reserves.
Photon’s founding team is passionate about becoming the most trusted electric propulsion provider serving the most fragile ecosystems and communities around the world. And this is part of why we have been – and will continue to be – successful at recruiting intelligent, creative, ambitious people who come from a variety of demographic backgrounds. People want more meaning in their work. They want to be part of organizations that are trying to make the world a better place. And, more and more, that means a focus on the environmental health of our planet. A headline in the New York Times tells the story succinctly: “‘Recession Resilient’ Climate Start-Ups Shine in Tech Downturn: Tech workers and investors are flocking to start-ups that aim to combat climate change.”
People have reached out to us to ask about employment opportunities because they are supportive of our mission to provide a streamlined, more efficient and more cost-effective way for those who work on the world’s oceans, lakes, and waterways to transition to cleaner power alternatives. And our goal of bringing together diverse stakeholders to decarbonize the marine industry. Our purpose-driven vision will ensure we can attract strong talent and we will continue to focus on ensuring diversity.
Climate Capital: What are the key challenges as you scale your company?
Marcelino: At the moment, we are facing the same supply crunch for batteries as is the rest of the world. It has not been a challenge for prototyping (we are using a Kriesel battery), but as we get to pilots and scaling those, it will become a consideration. Charging infrastructure is also a challenge. Many marinas and boat slips already have 110V and 240V service that’s needed to recharge batteries on boats with ICE motors. In a number of cases, the 240V power supply will be sufficient for a sufficient overnight charge. For fleets that are doing multiple trips per day, DC fast chargers would be ideal. We have a partner called Aqua superPower that builds marine-ready DC fast chargers and their model is to pay for the installation and recoup the costs by marking up the electricity.
Climate Capital: What have you learned that you want to share with other founders?
Marcelino: Building a strong start-up team requires patience, endurance, tenacity and relentless focus. There are challenges daily and weekly that have the potential to derail your operation, so staying agile and building effective team communication, process and systems is critical.
It’s important to ensure you have worked as a founding team to clearly define your values, and continue to come back to them as you hit different decision points and milestones throughout the business roadmap. Hiring and finding the right talent must also be done through values leadership, in addition to hunting the right, relevant skill sets.
Additionally, finding the right partners - investors, supply chain partners, and customers - is a core cornerstone as you build out your model. You want to ensure that your investors have relevant industry connections and knowledge that can help propel you forward. You want to ensure your supply chain partners understand where you’re at and what you’re trying to accomplish. Your early customers will effectively be co-development partners, and their feedback and patience during prototyping refinement and testing will be a key to your long-term success.
Climate Capital: How can the broader climate community help you on your mission?
Marcelino: We are grateful for the broader climate community’s awareness and support. We appreciate when our friends and partners spread the word about Photon Marine’s journey and mission. This helps us to identify new investors, customers and partners, ultimately contributing to our longer-term sustainability and success. Additionally, we’re always looking for great talent, and this broader climate ecosystem can be effective together when we help share job opportunities and roles within the climate ecosystem to find the right team members.
Climate Capital: "Our platform approach across funds & syndicates — Seed, Accelerate, Bio, and Syndicate — has allowed us to build expertise in specific verticals and across stages while leveraging efficiencies of scale. This means our founders have access to several Partners, dozens of network resources, & thousands of LPs to accelerate growth." For more information, click here Climate Capital.